Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Olympic boycott

I am boycotting the Beijing Olympics. I didn't go to the opening ceremonies, and I won't attend the closing ceremonies. Additionally, I refuse to compete—even if asked. I also have not kept my TV on to make sure that whatever is happening in Beijing is brought into my living room. Nor have I bothered to turn the TV on when friends or family have told me not to miss seeing an Olympic event.

This is probably not a very principled way of participating in the boycott of the Beijing Olympics. After all, most (if not all) of the local people I know are still in town rather than in Beijing. I don't think I have ever made anybody's list of outstanding athletes. And I don't watch that much TV anyhow.

I am skeptical about the use or overuse of boycotts or the threats of boycotts. If a boycott is intended to change the disapproved behavior of another, it seems that the focus of action needs to be made very clear. That implies to me that a genuine boycotter should not only inform friends and acquaintances about his or her intention to boycott, but should also communicate those concerns to the party whose behavior one wishes to change, and in a way that would allow for a timely change in that behavior.

In the middle of all the Olympic hoopla, I've read two excellent articles in recent weeks, explaining individual decisions to boycott the Beijing Olympics. I may not agree that a process for a meaningful boycott has been followed, but I do agree with their statements of concern and feel that they are worthy of further attention.

John Stewart has posted a devotional on his blog drawing attention to the persecution of Christians by the Chinese government.

Charles C. Haynes wrote a recent column drawing attention to broader religious persecution in China.

The breadth of human rights violations cries out for a change of policy by the Chinese government, and should have been considered more strongly when the Olympic committee was selecting a location for the 2008 games.

File under : , , , ,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I've never had so many people vote for me, or against me for that matter

One of the events at the 218th General Assembly that affected me directly was my election to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. I had been appointed to fill a mid-term vacancy on this committee, subject to election by the next meeting of the General Assembly. This is an unpaid, volunteer position working in an area where I have some applicable expertise.

Early in the meeting I learned that there was going to be a challenge nomination from the floor. Having worked at getting up to speed with the committee's work, and having contributed some of what I had to offer during that time, I discovered that I now had feelings of investment in that committee. Being elected mattered to me in a new way.

The General Assembly has procedures for handling challenge nominations, and I learned a few weeks after the Assembly that some photographs had been taken of the proceedings that I had merely watched with great interest.

The following photographs were taken by Harry Young, the stated Clerk of Utica Presbytery (the same presbytery that ordained me 28 years ago). I am posting these photos on my blog with his permission.

On Thursday morning, June 26, the General Assembly Nominating Committee began presenting the nominations that were to be challenged by other nominations from the floor. My nomination was the first to be presented. The above slide was shown to the commissioners, giving them some demographic information about me and the challenger.

"WMC" = White Male Clergy. "46-55" is my age bracket. "Pittsburgh" identifies me as a member of Pittsburgh Presbytery. "TRI"=Synod of the Trinity (where Pittsburgh Presbytery is located). I was being nominated for an At-Large position; all of the positions on the Advisory Committee on the Constitution are "at-large" because they are not tied to representing particular governing bodies or categories.

My challenger was White Female Clergy, in the "56-65" age bracket, from the Presbytery of Nevada, in the Synod of the Pacific.

Under the rules of the General Assembly, the commissioner making the challenge nomination was to make a nominating speech of up to three minutes.

Then a representative of the General Assembly Nominating Committee was allowed to make a three minute speech in support of their nominee (me).

Those two speeches and the demographic information above were the only pieces of information formally presented to the assembly before it went through its voting procedure. But before the commissioners voted, the Assembly polled various categories of Advisory Delegates for their advice (the Assembly followed this procedure on most items of business when the voting pads were going to be used).

Each of the slides showing the advisory polls had two categories of advisory delegates. The Youth Advisory Delegates were 68% in favor of me (with 95 of them indicating a choice). The second category on that slide showed the poll of the Theological Student Advisory Delegates. That one was much closer, but with a lot of the TSAD's not supporting either nominee.

The next slide showed the poll of the Missionary Advisory Delegates. There were a total of eight delegates in this category, and the seven that indicated a preference all supported me.

Also on this slide were the Ecumenical Advisory Delegates. Only a little over a third of these delegates indicated any preference at all. In that category I got three votes and the challenger got two.

After the Assembly had received the advice of its advisory delegates, the commissioners voted. There were a total of 752 commissioners at the Assembly and I received 67% of the votes, so I was elected.

In retrospect, I realized that because most of my ministry has been in small presbyteries and in small to medium-sized congregations, this was the largest group of people to vote on me in my life. Even the raw number of people voting against me in this election was larger than the number of votes I had received in any previous election.

File under: , , ,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Visual impressions of General Assembly in San Jose

It has been almost two months since I was in San Jose for the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There has been a lot going on, and I am not back up to speed with my blogging, but I wanted to share some of the things I saw while in San Jose.

photograph of crape-myrtle blooms in San Jose

When I arrived in San Jose one of the first things that caught my eye was the crape-myrtle that was blooming everywhere. These trees with beautiful purple flowers lined the streets throughout the city and especially in the area around the convention center.

photograph of empty meeting hall for 218th General Assembly of PCUSA

One of the first things I did after checking into my hotel and registering at the Assembly was to visit the meeting hall and find my assigned seat. As a corresponding member of the General Assembly my seat was about twenty rows ahead of the place where I used to sit, but still behind the black curtain that separated the voting commissioners and advisory delegates from the rest of us. There was a lot still being set up in the meeting hall. A few commissioners had found their seats and were doing some meeting preparation. The photo of the empty hall above was taken from the spot where I would sit during the meetings of the Assembly.

photograph of 218th General Assembly at worship in meeting hall

Of course, when the hall was full of people the view would be very different, such as when the Assembly was at worship.

photograph of Committee 06 at work during 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

On Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday I sat with Committee 06, the Form of Government Revision Committee. A Task Force had prepared a proposed revision to the Form of Government (part of our Church's Constitution). I was with this Committee to give them the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Many presbyteries had sent overtures to the Assembly asking for different things to be done with the so-called FOG Report.

On Monday morning I gave this committee a twenty-minute presentation with PowerPoint, helping them to understand the options they had. The Committee (and I) made the news.

In the end, this committee recommended that the report be referred to an augmented Task Force to report back to the next General Assembly.

The photo above was taken from my assigned seat when the committee was meeting. Far away at the front of the room (and to the left of the projection screen) the woman in the white sweater was Carol Hunley, an elder commissioner from Pittsburgh Presbytery. A recent news story this week announced that Carol is one of the members who were added to the Task Force to prepare the FOG report for the next Assembly.

photograph of past moderator Jack Rogers participating in debate

During the meetings of the Assembly there was a camera crew ready to focus a camera on members of the Assembly when they were speaking at microphones. The images of the speakers would appear on one of the large projection screens at the front of the meeting hall. I got used to paying attention to the pictures of speakers, and the amplified sound of what they were saying. At one point in a debate, I noticed that I was hearing an odd echo. Past Moderator Jack Rogers was speaking to the Assembly. I realized then that Microphone 10 was about fifteen feet to my right and that what I was hearing were his spoken words followed after a very short delay by the amplified version of what he was saying.

File under : , ,

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Topix has partnered with eventful

It has been a busy summer for me and I got so far away from blogging that I was taken by surprise when I noticed the redesign of pages on Topix. I had barely begun to assimilate that piece of information when I noticed something even newer than the overall redesign -- Topix has partnered with eventful to provide information about upcoming events.

The other day I noticed the events tab on the of of the Topix page for Tarentum, and when I clicked to see what events they had to offer I saw a number of events that I knew I had earlier uploaded to eventful. Then, when I checked the links, I saw that all of the events linked directly back to eventful's pages about those events.

I am somewhat gratified by this development. A couple years ago I had started using eventful to publicize various events, and I have been getting increasingly comfortable with how their website works. Eventful is good at providing its information on to other event services. For Topix to partner with eventful seems a particularly good match.

File under : ,

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Grand Opening for Aresto Comics

photo of grand opening banner outside Aresto Comics storeOn Monday, August 4, a new business opened its doors in Lower Burrell.

Aresto Comics, having existed for a number of years as an eBay store, now also has a physical location at 2785 Leechburg Road Suite C, Lower Burrell, where customers can come and browse and receive personal service.

photo of Tom Aresto, owner of Aresto Comics in Lower Burrell, PAThe small store is neat and well-lit. The owner, Tom Aresto, offers a subscription service, and will have special evening hours on Wednesdays, the days when the new issues come out.

When I visited for the grand opening, I admitted that I had not really followed comic books since my childhood, but that in recent years I had seen that the quality of the printing and artwork had improved enormously. Tom pointed out that the quality of the writing has also improved. That explains to me why so many of the recent movies that I have enjoyed have been based on comics or graphic novels I had not seen.

It is an interesting store. Its location on the well-travelled Leechburg Road is an easy walk from my home. I'll probably be checking out new developments around the store as they happen.

File under: : , , ,

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Proud to be an American

"Did you have your TV on last night?"

"No," was my reply.

"Do you know who won on American Gladiator?"

My reply was still "No."

Someone who came to church tonight explained that his television completely lost its signal in the middle of American Gladiator and he did not know how the show turned out.

I must be doing something wrong that I am so easily mistaken for someone who would care about the outcome of a prime time game show.

So I made what I thought was a reasonable guess about the script for an unreality show I don't follow, and offered, "I think it was the American."

Was I wrong?

File under: